Oil and Gas news: Company Connecting interviews Ian Watt

Category: Blog

By Janice


Company Connecting spoke with Ian Watt of The Data Lab and Code the City to get his insights into technology and the Oil & Gas sector. Ian Watt works on machine learning, AI and data analytics and helps push forward innovative technology solutions.

Whats your background and what are you doing now?
I have a background of over 30 years in the public sector. While there I managed large data and digital programmes. I retired in June 2017 and then studied for an MSc Data Science at RGU, graduating in Dec 2018.
I am currently working as a Business Development Executive, based in Aberdeen, with The Data Lab, one of Scotland's innovation centres. I am passionate about using digital and data for social innovation and civic good. While I was still working in local government I co-founded Code The City (now split into a charity and limited company) and ODI Aberdeen. We set these up to provide frameworks for ideation and to deliver rapid prototyping of  innovation, initially around public services.

Why did you set up the Data Science Meetup?
I've been working from various angles at building a data community in Aberdeen for at least five years. Part of this came from the role I had within the local authority, where I sought to position each of the seven Scottish City local authorities not only as a provider of open data but also the catalyst to engage with the developer community. Also, it was a factor in founding and growing Code The City / ODI Aberdeen as enablers of social innovation. As I studied for my Masters I was disappointed that there was no specific data science community in the city despite both universities teaching postgraduate courses in Data Science, AI and Machine Learning. My view is that if something needs done then don't wait for someone else to provide it. So, within a week or so of suggesting we should have a meet-up, I'd secured sponsorship from The Data Lab, MBN Solutions and Scotland IS. This became part of the Scotland Data Science and Technology Meetup community, run by MBN Solutions and The Data Lab, which hosts meetups around the country.We've just passed our first anniversary in April and we've grown to over 50 sign-ups for the meetup every month.

How relevant it is to Oil & Gas?
The Data Meetup is sector-agnostic, in the same way as Data Science is. I'd estimate that our attendees are roughly one third O&G, and one third academia, with the rest being a mixture of other backgrounds. We have generally two speakers per evening, and their subjects cover a wide range of topics. Sometimes these are examples of projects that the presenter has been conducting. Sometimes it is an in-depth coverage of a specific technique in data science or a related discipline. Since data science is not specific to one industry, we find that the audience, no matter what their background, will get something from talk that they can think about applying to their own area. It is also an important and locally-unique networking event, where potential employers can meet graduates and the seeds of collaboration between academia and the industry are sown over beer and pizza.

What do you think about the impact of the O&G downturn - companies more conscious about data - using it better / worse
In the last six months, as I have engaged with the O&G sector, whether in face to face meetings, at industry events or at meet-ups it is clear that there is a significant and growing interest from the industry in what data science, machine learning and AI can offer. Where perhaps in the past there was less of a need to consider costs, reduce waste, or save effort, there is now not only a realisation of what efficiencies can be achieved through better use of data, but there is a clear desire to see data-driven innovation in exploration, extraction and other parts of the industry. This includes the desire to apply predictive models to machine operations, to minimise downtime, or to use advanced statistical modelling to assess the future yield of reservoirs once considered non-profitable.

Similarly, when we ran Data Fest 2019 a few weeks ago, we had over 60 Fringe events across Scotland including eight here in Aberdeen (up from just two last year). Those included two all-day events just for O&G in the city, which were not only well-attended but generated great feedback from delegates and speakers.

What's new with data in Oil & Gas - any examples?  Any predictions for data / analytics O&G  Anything else you think is pertinent.
The launch of the National Data repository by Oil and Gas UK is a significant milestone. Such a move - to make industry data available openly - would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

Data Science isn't just about data in spreadsheets or the analysis of big static data sets, though. It covers such areas as computer vision, where in real time, or post-capture, video or still images are processed: e.g. to identify objects, faults or anomalies; the analysis of real-time streaming data arising from increasingly sophisticated IoT devices: e.g. from sensors on a piece of equipment and the creation of predictive models which will flag up when a piece of machinery is going to fail and automatically schedule its repair or replacement; or easily-deployed systems which mean that data science capabilities are now within reach of the analyst at just a few clicks on a dashboard-type solution.

In and around Aberdeen I have come across a number of smaller companies who are working on innovative solutions to industry challenges many of which involve the application of data science in novel ways for the O&G sector. We see new companies coming out of programmes such as Scottish Enterprise’s Grey Matters or Elevator.

Through The Data Lab's programme of Collaborative Innovation, we can both matchmake and fund, bringing academic thinking and input within reach of industry, including SMEs who have a vision but lack in-house skills to deliver their new solutions. We can, and do co-fund with OGIC and CENSIS and other innovation centres. We also fund MSc student scholarships as well as industrial doctorates; we actively pursue placements for MSc students in industry; and we help companies develop in-house skills and talent.

With such a rich range of support, local experience from the Oil and Gas, and pipelines for developing ideas into innovative new applications and solutions, there is a bright future for innovation centred on data in the industry in the North East.

Linkhttps://www.linkedin.com/in/ianwatt1/edin Iain Watt
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"Oil and Gas news: Company Connecting interviews Ian Watt" first published on Company Connecting April 2019
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